It was the fall of 1993, my first semester of junior high school, and all the girls were watching...
It was for me the most dreaded time of year: the Presidential Fitness Tests.
For those who might not remember, this grueling farce of physical education had received a resurgence of interest after then-president George H. Bush had appointed then-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger as Chairman to the Presidential Council on fitness…at the peak of his Terminator 2 celebrity.
Of course I, like most boys my age, idolized Ahhhnold; we all wished we had his physique, blissfully oblivious to the chemical cocktails it took him to attain it (Maaaaybe not the best role model for a healthy male body image, right?).
Only you can prevent forest fires...wait, what?
So it was that once a semester, we all lined up to
compete test ourselves in such "fun" activities as seeing how many sit-ups or pushups we could perform in a minute (never mind with good form or technique), the painful sit-and-reach, or the dreaded pull-up.
Now, in order to fully grasp my fear and loathing of this meat-grinder experience, I have to tell you a bit more about myself.
I was never the most active child; rather I had an active imagination, and spent most of my days with my nose in a book. I was also a giant among my peers. While I kind of enjoyed playing soccer in the American Youth Soccer Organization, my lanky, uncoordinated body and comparatively poor conditioning relegated me to ineptly guarding the goalie as a fullback, until my family’s then-recent relocation to a smog-filled Los Angeles triggered severe exercise-induced asthma.
I dropped out of soccer, suffered through only a single humiliating season of YMCA basketball, and said sayonara to any illusions I might have had of attaining a Terminator-level torso.
Compounding the challenge of my lessened physical activity was the small matter of my parent’s ugly divorce, which left me scarred and marred at the age of 8 with an emotional eating disorder…the pounds began to pile on, leading to childhood obesity that will haunt my epigenetics for the rest of my days.
So there I was, the pull-up bar before me, and all of the girls (including my particular schoolboy crush) were watching the boys
test compete in the mother of all upper-body pulling strength skills.
I had just watched enviably as the star athletes of my class, lean, and light, and wholly unlike my body type, perform upwards of ten repetitions. The tallest in my class, I had long limbs, and heavy tree-trunk legs…I had to pull greater weight, over a greater distance, at a much higher mechanical leverage disadvantage.
I was doomed, but dammit…I would do at least one.
Well I muscled up to that bar, gripped it with all of my might, and promptly pulled…my right shoulder right out of its socket.
You see, even for normal-sized folk, the pull-up is an extremely demanding movement that requires adequate joint preparation, and progression through several phases leading up to the actual skill…
Grip strength must be developed, perhaps even scaled down to merely holding heavy weights in one’s hands should bodyweight prove too difficult.
Core engagement, and scapular retraction and depression must be mastered, even before the elbows can be engaged to bring the body towards, and eventually above, the bar...
Absolutely none of which had been shown or taught to me at any time by any of the physical education teachers at my school. P.E. class was (and sadly continues to be) an unfunny joke.
This was the period I hated most. “Class” consisted of warming up by running laps, group calisthenics, including pushups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks, followed by the shame of being picked last to be a large clumsy target in dodgeball, or some other equally embarrassing activity.
The pervading mentality was essentially, “they're kids, so they're resilient, and will just figure it out.” There was no actual coaching, no instruction on proper form, how to alter difficulty or scale progressions for our unique individual body types, or physical challenges.
The result was that the class was de-facto sorted into two types of students. Those who were naturals, either through genetic body type, or childhood training, were of course the stars, but also set as the baseline or “normal.”
Those of us who struggled on the other hand, while in reality normal, and average enough, were marked as "deficient", leading to chronic low self-esteem and the same kind of identity level defeatism you ingrain into a child when you tell them “you’ll never be good at _____”
As normal as it is to be a beginner at something, to require a foundation and training to master most any skill, it never occurred to me that the problem might not lie in me, but in the approach to teaching taken by my would-be mentors.
Now you might be thinking...
"Touching story Scott, but what's that got to do with me?"
That's a great question. Perhaps nothing. However in my 18 years of studying the body; as a dancer, a bodyworker, and personal trainer, I have come to discover something profound…I am not alone. Millions of students struggle daily, the presidential fitness challenge is still a thing (ineffective as ever) and children grow into adults with little to no understanding of their own bodies.
Who forgot to include the user manual?
Some Assembly Required...
I have worked with thousands of people, all with their own unique bodies, strengths, and challenges. Most of the time, they come to me in pain, almost completely lacking in an understanding of what is causing it, how it came to be that way, and without a specific enough understanding of their own anatomy to even articulate what it is that hurts.
In almost every case, the cause is structural…imbalances in the tension of the soft tissue and skeletal alignment combine with the mechanical forces of movement leading to some kind of critical state. While I am, in most cases, able to provide relief and rebalancing with hands-on work, this is merely addressing the symptoms.
Many people only seek out bodywork when they have such a problem, and the mentality, unfortunately, is often to “fix it for me,” with marginal, if any, interest in taking responsibility, in learning about their own bodies, and making the changes necessary to support it in it’s steadfast and loyal service as the steward of our minds.
Unfortunately, now more than ever, we tend to live in our heads, our meatspace bodies an afterthought to our cyber-social lives. #FirstWorldProblems indeed...
For what has become the average first-world citizen, to even begin the journey to fitness requires a comprehensive overhaul of understanding.
Weaknesses and injuries must be strengthened, while tight areas need to be stretched and brought into balance. All the structures of the body must be built up, meticulously, avoiding any and all-shortcuts that only lead to future injury, or at best, inhibiting and limiting your ultimate potential.
You must learn about your own anatomy and function, not from a textbook, but from direct experience. Science may have dissected our biomechanics, but unlike machines, we cannot just replace faulty parts...we must literally grow our bodies into a more capable form.
If you were not blessed with natural or acquired athleticism...
If you want to transform your body...
If you want to reclaim your health, mobility, and longevity...
If you want to attain a whole new body, more powerful than you have ever imagined...
Then what you need is a real physical education.
As it just so happens, I have spent the better part of two decades overcoming my own challenges, and compiling the knowledge and practices necessary to get into super shape…from scratch. Transformational bodywork combined with superior strength training technology in a single unparalleled program.
Here’s to your health, and your physical badassery...